In this post, we will discuss the important of completing accelerated college degrees in the current college scenario.
A while back, I spoke with some college students about their college goals and when they expect to graduate. Many of them had some form of college scholarships as well. What they then told me was quite alarming! One such student Maria had spent the last 3 years taking many courses at her community college but was still nowhere close to completing her associate degree.
Her student scholarship money was also scheduled to run out soon and she was desperately looking for a way to complete her college degree much faster! She had taken many core and elective courses at her college which later turned out to not meet the degree requirements for her chosen degree.
She had more than the required 60 credits needed for a typical associate degree but since the course content did not fulfill the degree requirements, she was unable to complete her associate degree. Such a situation can happen not just for an associate degree but also for a bachelor’s degree at a US college or university.
In my case, I too had about 126 prior credits upon enrolling at Regents college for my bachelor’s degree which required a total of 120 credits for degree completion. But it took me the next three years to earn some of the general credits and most of the credits for my degree specialization in Computer Science.
Though I had completed many courses, they resulted in excess credits for similar subject matters thus requiring me to take more courses for the remaining degree requirements, There were also some administrative procedures at my college that further added to this time and delayed my graduation date even further. I will discuss more about this shortly.
On the whole, there are many factors such as the availability of money, wrong courses taken, administrative procedures in college, or even your family circumstances or living conditions that can increase the number of years you spend in college. But no matter what your circumstances, there are a number of accelerated college degrees and strategies that can result in faster college graduation.
I will describe some of the most important ones here in the succeeding paragraphs.
Translate Strengths and Interests to Specific Degree Major
Before you start college, you need to have a good idea about what your key strengths are. Everyone has unique strengths, things that he or she is naturally good at! These are tasks, topics or activities that you can accomplish exceedingly well with the minimum of effort. It is most likely also something you are highly interested in.
By choosing a degree major that ties in perfectly with your strengths and interests, you will be setting yourself up for a successful college experience and a great career!
To identify your strengths, go back to all the things that excited you and that you did very well during your schooling years.
The CliftonStrengths34 is another tool which can help uncover your strengths. It has a simple and yet comprehensive quiz that can uncover your true strengths. There is not special skill required to take this assessment.
Choose the Right College and Credit Sources
To complete a college degree in an accelerated or fast way, it is best to enroll in a college that allows you multiple ways to substantiate your prior learning. For simplicity, I will call these colleges as flexible colleges.
At these colleges, you can:
- Transfer your unlimited previous college-level credits free of cost (or) for very little
- Use many free and low cost online courses for earning college credits such as Coursera or EdX
- You can write standardized exams such as CLEP (College Level Examination program) to substantiate your knowledge and thereby earn college credits. CLEP guides and community support for CLEP are available at InstantCert.
- Use your work experience, hobbies or other learning from non-accredited sources to earn college credits via portfolio or prior-learning assessment
I will go over many of these ways to earn college credits in subsequent posts. But for now, please note that to complete such accelerated college degrees, students need to enroll into one of the flexible colleges such as Excelsior or Charter Oak to benefit from this multitude of ways to earn college credits.
Plan for College Expenses
There are two important ways to manage college expenses. Firstly, the college fees and other related costs must be affordable. This can be easily achieved by enrolling in a flexible college as specified above.
Secondly, apply for federal or other scholarships at the enrolled college to assist with the expenses. In case this does not cover all your expenses, just have a clear plan as to how the additional expenses will be covered. Ask your parents for help if needed, and perhaps a part-time job might be useful to pay for some of the expenses.
Most college scholarships do not cover living expenses such as food or room & boarding costs. So the best approach is to sign up at a low cost college, then apply for a student scholarship and take a part time job or have your parents cover the other living expenses.
One important point to note is that the flexible colleges do not require you to physically relocate to the college location. So you can just live with your family and still complete your college degree from a flexible college. This way your living expenses will be greatly reduced.
Lastly, please avoid taking any form of student loans. At a flexible college, the college fees are so low that you can just pay for college with a simple part time job if you like! It might be very tempting to take a student loan and to start college right away but the burdensome misery of student loan repayment can cause havoc for many years after college graduation. So avoid student loans at all costs.
Pick the Right Credit Options and Study Methods
As stated earlier, there are many ways to earn college credits at one of the flexible colleges. But to truly accelerate your college degree progress, you need to pick the credit options and study methods that are a good fit for you.
For example, some of us learn very well online. For others, a physical book is the best form of gathering knowledge. Still others love learning in a live classroom environment while collaborating with fellow students. A good deal of online learning communities are available nowadays which can provide the comfort of student collaboration in a virtual setting.
Though learning online might save a lot of time for some of us, it might not be of much help for those who are unable to learn well online, Some people prefer a hybrid form of learning environment.
For some easy courses, you could just take CLEP or DSST exams and study by reading books or online materials. For other tougher subjects, you could study in a live classroom and ask the professor and other students for help with your questions and other challenges.
For the best accelerated college degrees, writing CLEP or DSST exams are among the best of options. You can earn anywhere between 3 to 6 credits per exam, the cost is minimal and the exam score report would reach you in a few weeks time.
Note that a portfolio or prior learning assessment or evaluation typically takes several months to reflect in your college transcript. This assessment is used for evaluating work experience or other non-accredited courses or learning. But if you have a lot of learning from non-accredited sources, a portfolio assessment may still be a worthwhile option.
Portfolio assessment is also one of the more expensive credit options as there is a fixed charge for this evaluation, in addition to a fee for every single college credit acquired via this assessment.
To reduce the time for college graduation, you can have your portfolio assessment done while simultaneously taking other college courses and so on. Most students typically start their portfolio evaluation after having exhausted all their other sources of earning college credits.
Cultivate Good Study Skills
Following some simple study strategies can greatly enhance your performance and result in better grades.Once I followed these techniques, my ability to retain information also increased and I started seeing an immediate increase in my scores.
Here is one simple guide that can greatly improve your study skills:
The Everything Guide to Study Skills: Strategies, tips, and tools you need to succeed in school! (Everything®)
Also, I’ve found good note-taking during class lectures, while watching class videos or at seminars to be extremely useful for re-calling important information during critical times.
Take a look at this book for excellent note-taking skills:
How To Take Great Notes Quickly And Easily: A Very Easy Guide: (40+ Note Taking Tips for School, Work, Books and Lectures. Cornell Notes Explained. And … (The Learning Development Book Series 8)
Consult your College Student Advisor
Upon enrolling at one of the flexible colleges, the first thing you need to do is to consult your college student advisor. Most flexible colleges allocate a dedicated student advisor to each student upon enrollment. Fix an appointment with him or her to go over all your prior learning so you can together come up with an effective plan for meeting all your degree requirements, Be sure to ask your advisor lots of questions on the relative duration of different courses or credit sources and their respective costs.
Don’t be afraid to ask your advisor any questions which you think might appear silly or make you look ignorant. Build a good rapport with your advisor and learn to respect and trust their advice and feedback. Since the advisor would have helped many students with their college degrees, you will definitely benefit from their guidance and support.
As you make progress with your college degree, keep in touch with your student advisor periodically. If you are ever unsure about whether a particular course or learning will satisfy a particular degree requirement, just run it by your student advisor! Choose a mutually convenient time to talk to them on the phone. Ask other simple questions via email so as not to overwhelm them with continuous queries.
Be sure to organize many of your questions and write them in a single email instead of sending many emails in a short span of time. Also, do not hesitate to ask them for help as and when needed.
Chart out Your Personalized Degree Roadmap
By now, your student advisor would have likely given you many suggestions about how to go about meeting all your remaining degree requirements, Right after you enroll, the flexible college will typically evaluate your prior learning and courses to transfer them to your current college degree with them.
In the enrollment application form you will be asked many questions about all the courses, learning and experience that you have already completed prior to enrolling at the college. This information will be used to generate your college transcript with them that includes all the prior credits that meet the current degree requirements,
For example, if you previously completed an advanced Mathematics course that covered Calculus, that could be used to meet your general credit requirement in Mathematics. Or if you chose a Mathematics major at the flexible college, this could perhaps meet one the Advanced Calculus requirements. So note that your prior courses may satisfy more than one degree requirement but each such course can only be used to satisfy no more than one of the degree requirements.
You can use this initial college transcript and all the feedback and suggestions from your college student advisor to chart out a plan for completing the remaining credits for your college degree. Just write a list of all the subjects or topics you need to complete, then choose a particular course or exam, the expected college credits to be earned, an approximate cost for the exam and books, and then your intended start and finish dates for that course or exam or other forms of learning.
Be sure to revisit your personalized degree roadmap and update it as you complete each course or learning. Modify the road map document whenever required so it always reflects the current state of your college degree progress. Keeping this one document updated will surely accelerate the completion of your college degree.
Once you’ve met all your degree requirements and received your final college transcript, it is time to start planning for your graduation ceremony,
Be sure to include your family and loved ones in this event as it is a very important achievement that you need to be proud of!
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